Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Suzanne Collins/Katniss Everdeen is my hero.

So I came across this Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss poster online today from the upcoming Hunger Games adaptation (they have 8 character posters total, so go find them!). And holy crap I could not be more excited about these movies. And I don't have anywhere near the fear I normally do about movie adaptations, because as I read these three books over the course of three days (I brought the first one down to the beach, read it in less than 24 hours, and then conducted an exhaustive search of several Nagshead bookstores to find the second and third in the series), I realized that these books are really the equivalent of great, popcorn movies. 

There's nothing literary about them, and I don't mean that disrespectfully to Suzanne Collins, who really is my hero. But they're just not literary. Language is not really important. Style is not really important. These things, along with the fact that the story revolves around teenagers, is why they are (mistakenly) placed in young adult sections. The words are purely and simply a vehicle for the story, and what a story it is. Never would I have guessed that a dystopian novel about a future where children fight to the death on a reality television would make for quite possibly the most addictive, thrilling, and gripping books I have ever read. I devoured these books. And they just kick the most incredible ass. I hate to give away anything, because not knowing how these books end is intrinsic to the experience, so I won't, but I will say that Suzanne Collins is a brave, brave woman because she is not afraid of dark. She is not afraid to be bold and kill people off and set off literal bombs. That is gutsy. That puts an enormous amount of trust in readers, because so many forms of entertainment these days hold people's hands and shy away from dark stuff and end up lesser because of that. 

But Suzanne Collins doesn't go dark for the shock value. There's nothing extraneous or gratuitous about it. She does it because her very simply written "young adult" novels tell an incredibly entertaining story about the future that just so happens to work very well as an analogy  about the cost of modern war, about the promises we broken humans make again and again only to break, about the innocents who suffer in the name of causes, about the terrible games adults or nations play-games that inevitably hurt the non-willing participants the most. 

But the best thing that Suzanne Collins does with these books, why I so cheer for them, is because of a character named Katniss Everdeen. After reading the first Twilight I wanted to weep for future generations of preteen and teenage girls. Because really? Bella freaking Swan was their feminine role model? A girl who makes irrational decision after irrational decision because of a pretty, undead boy. A girl who has so little agency over her own life that she literally wants to throw it away, regardless of her friends and family's feelings, and become undead just so she never has to part from that pretty boy. A girl who is weak and clumsy and who has to be rescued, again and again and again by the men around her.

That really sucks. That pained me, because Twilight was so popular and young girls would read that and think Bella was someone to admire. But then along came The Hunger Games, and with it Katniss Everdeen, and I deeply hope that young girls out there choose Katniss over Bella as their role model . Because she's so fantastic. She's unequivocally the hero of these books. Not only is she a hero, but she's a frikkin' action hero. There are pretty boys sure, but Katniss, the girl, comes to their rescue. I read the first book, when Katniss rescues Peeta in the arena and nurses him back to life and silently cheered the whole time. Because that's what girls need. They need to see a woman take charge and be fierce (not in the Tyra sense, I mean in the I'll shoot you with a cross bow sense).

Katniss, from the first page, is the head of her family, and throughout these books her mission is to keep her loved ones alive at any cost. This is not a girl who loses her head and is willing to give up everything else in her life because of a cute guy. But the great thing is that she's not perfect either. That's the other trap of bad female literary heroines-making them into bland martyrs who have no faults. Katniss makes mistakes and has flaws and is by no means the most moral character in these books. But that's why she's so great. Because she's strong and human at the same time. She can fall in love and be loved by the boys around her, but she's an awesome feminist character, because that love never dictates who she is. The girl can sing a song, stab someone, kiss a boy and then hunt for dinner. That's the kind of female character I want my niece to look up to. And it is my sincere hope that one day my niece, or hypothetical daughter or just any eleven year olds or twelve year olds out there who may have once idolized Bella Swan, will read The Hunger Games, shake their heads, and think "Katniss would kick that wimpy vampire lover's ass any day."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spoiled rotten.

I cannot express how grateful I am at this moment. 

In one weekend I celebrate my birthday with friends at my favorite low key Richmond restaurant, Sticky Rice, with my favorite food on earth-sushi and Sticky Rice tots.

I pampered myself shamelessly with a mani/pedi and professional hair appointment (I've never done this other than for weddings and prom I swear!) 

I had an unbelievable night out on Sunday (see previous blog). 

And then tonight I went to Mamma Zu with my mom, dad, and brother and ate my other favorite foods (squid, arugula and bean appetizer, fried oysters so delicate you could have sworn they were raw, crab pasta with literally a pound of lump crab meat in it, lots of good red wine, and homemade red velvet cupcakes).

I got to chat and catch up on the phone with my best friend who just moved to Georgia for over an hour this morning.

And then I got a call from my sister and heard my one year old niece sing "Happy Birthday" to me and say "I love you Aunt Yiz." Earlier today I happened to look through my Facebook album of pictures from when she was first born. I met her on Christmas Eve, the day she was born, and I had the utter privilege to spend a good portion of her first six months of life with her as her nanny. I love this little girl more than anything on this planet, and I miss her every day now that I can't see her every day. I had an unbelievable birthday, but her birthday message was the absolute BEST part. It was the proverbial icing on the cake.

Thank you universe. The last few weeks have been hard and draining, and I've felt several times that I had nothing left in the tank. But then you gift me with a weekend like this, and well, life is good. Life is great :)

RTCC Awards Highlights

Last night was my first RTCC Awards (RTCC standing for Richmond Theatre Critics Circle for those of you not in the know), and I had an absolute blast. I got gussied up, pretended it was the Oscar's to justify getting my hair done professionally, was accompanied by an equally gussied up date in a tux, ate a delicious pre-show dinner at Lemaire (which I had never been to before, I fail as a Richmonder), and basically sat back with a few glasses of wine, did absolutely zero work (compared to what I'm sure was a ton of hard work put in by a lot of people to make the night so great), and enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining evening. A few personal highlights:

  • Unbeknownst to us at the time, me and my date tried to sit in Tim Kaine's seats, because of a mix up with the ushers and other people occupying our actual seats. A nice young man smiled at us and told us it was the "governor's box." I smiled back and 1) assumed governor's box was just a fancy, made-up title, like king's box and 2) tried to think of what play I had seen this nice, young man in. Later in the evening who should appear in those very same seats but Mr. Tim "ohhh that's where the governor comes from" Kaine and his lovely wife. The young "actor" immediately began chatting with Mr. Kaine and I thought, wow, what a lovely moment for him, hob knobbing with the former governor. It took about five more beats for me to realize that it was U of R basketball coach, Chris Mooney, sitting in the place of honor, and that I was an idiot, an idiot who tried to steal Tim Kaine's seats. Thank God for Chris Mooney's intervention or there would have been a slightly awkward moment when Mr. Kaine arrived.
  • Local news people are my kryptonite. Show me an NBC affiliate anchor and I get as starstruck as a thirteen year old girl in front of Justin Bieber. I simply cannot handle it. Once when I was little my best friend's dad took us to "media day" at King's Dominion and we ate lunch in a tent bursting with news anchors. I think I hyperventilated with Andrew Friedman sat next to me eating a hamburger. And so at this event, where there were none other than Heather Sullivan (in multiple outfit changes by the way, eat that Lady Gaga), Juan Conde (disarmingly handsome in person), and Gene Cox walking around, I could not have felt more overcome. Luckily I was sitting on the balcony and could hide my spazziness at least somewhat. I don't know what is wrong with me. 
  • I felt slightly crazed with power knowing who all the winners were before they did. This is not a trait I'm proud of.
  • It was incredibly cool to see how happy some of the winners were. Everyone we nominated was so ridiculously talented, and it's such a cliche but I hope everyone who was nominated felt like a winner. At the very least I didn't see anyone throwing chairs or pulling out hair afterwards, so that's a good thing. Although I'm sure if actors do fight each other, it's incredibly entertaining and dramatic. 
  • Handsome actors are ten times more handsome in tuxes. How does George Clooney not get attacked by women every time he goes to an award show? 
  • I chatted with a director who I played piano with in elementary school, waved at the mom of my elementary school classmate across the lobby, and saw several women who used to work with my mom at the Virginia Library. Which, I've said it before, but it can't be emphasized enough, Richmond=tiny, tiny world.
  • I'm a complete newbie in this Richmond theater world and often feel like I'm just trying to catch up, but last night only reinforced for me how lucky I am to have had this theater reviewer job basically fall in my lap. I've lived here my whole life and I had no idea how much talent and creativity and dedication there was here when it comes to theater. I'm still learning, still making mistakes (oh there have been mistakes a plenty-let's just say I probably lost all theater credibility when I mistakenly referred to the uber-famous Wicked song "Defying Gravity" as Fighting Gravity, blerg), but I'm really happy to be even a very peripheral part of this all. I know actors/directors/crew members might sometimes think of theater critics as well, critics, snobs, ass faces, what have you. But the dirty little secret, at least speaking personally, is that I'm also a fan, a fan that occasionally writes critical things, but a fan nonetheless. Richmond has a pretty kick ass local theater scene, one that was represented wonderfully last night, and I'm really thrilled to be along for the ride.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why thinking of Haiti makes me hate the Wall Street protestors.

I went to Haiti on a volunteer trip more than a year ago, and I've only written about it once. I don't talk about it a lot, and I don't think about it as much as I should. The truth is it's easier not to. It's easier not to think or talk about starving children so grateful for even one sip of clean water, of a city center in ruins, of all the brutal stories I heard there about what it was like for those people, when in a matter of seconds, quite literally and figuratively, the whole earth fell apart. Yesterday I was flipping channels, and I came across the Haiti No Reservations, filmed after the earthquake in and around Port-au-Prince.

And there it all was-all of the confusion and sadness and shock that I took home with me. I watched those familiar images of tent cities and impossibly thin toddlers and people with such loss in their eyes, and I was reminded quite forcefully that I don't get to move past Haiti. The reason I went on this trip, the reason I know I will go on more trips like it, is to make it impossible to move on, to forget, to change the channel safe in the knowledge that it doesn't matter in the context of my life. I won't ever get over Haiti, and I don't think anyone who goes to a place like that does. There's too much visceral pain in the air in a place like that, too many ghosts.

The only negative that could ever come out of Haiti for me is if I was able to "move on", to forget. And the scary part is that there are stretches where I do, where all of the faces and the stories blur. But it's not my right to forget all that. I have the easy job. I got to leave, and now the only small part I can play, compared to the massive part others have played in that nation, and compared to the massive burden of its people, is to carry everything I saw with me.

And you know what, I haven't given those Wall Street protesters a lot of thought. I've been apathetic. But thinking of Haiti again, of everything I saw there, makes me want to walk up to those people and punch them in the face. Yeah, the United States isn't perfect. Not everything here is fair. It sucks that so many of us don't have jobs.

But dudes. GET OVER IT. If you're unhappy you have, compared to about 97% of the world, every resource imaginable to change your life. All of us in this nation are so tremendously blessed with the sheer dumb luck of being born here. And I've gone from not caring at all about these protesters to being really ticked off that they waste hours and days of their lives complaining about the unfairness of life in the United States.

We don't know from unfairness. None of us. Not a single one understand what unfair is. Unfair is a country where children die of malnutrition. We've long ago accepted that children die from starvation in this world and I can't for the life of me figure out how that happened-how this impossible fact turned into something intelligent life allows to occur. Unfair is a couple of hundred thousand people dead in a matter of seconds. Unfair is living with a government so corrupt and ineffective that you cheer when that government's main building collapses in an earthquake.

I want all of those protestors to go to Haiti. I want them to see unfair. I want them to talk to the people who lost everything, who have nothing, who have been living in tents for nearly two years, and who have no support to fall back on, no Welfare, no guarantee of treatment in an Emergency Room. And then I want them to stand there, in their hipster knit caps, with their full stomachs that have never known hunger or thirst, and complain about their lot.

I think it's good that I'm angry. I made a mistake in letting myself forget that out of everything Haiti showed me, it's the importance of anger. We can't change all the unfairness in our world. But we can sure as hell get mad enough to try to at least change some of it. Or at the very least yell at obnoxious protesters.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Best Friend's Wedding (among other things)

On the way to the church

Oh what a whirl of wind. That's the best way I can think to describe the last few weeks-weeks that contained in them all of the following-viewings and reviews for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Merchant of Venice, and Wicked, a furious race to finish my copy for the November Belle (which is by far my favorite work I've done so far for the magazine because it includes not only a page devoted to running but a how-to-guide for oyster roasts, since I don't live in Charleston anymore there was some wonderful vicarious pleasure in  writing about salty oysters cracked open on chilly nights, the quintessential fall Charleston experience). I've ran 9 miles in preparation for the November half-marathon, the farthest I've ever run in my life. If you would have told two years ago that I would one day be able to run 9 miles I would have assumed the only way that could happen is if a rabid bobcat got loose on the streets of Richmond. And yet here I am, hopelessly and completely addicted to running, a sport I used to look at with nothing but wide-eyed astonishment over the fact that so many otherwise sane people would do that to themselves. 

I've given more baths and changed more beds (with people in them!). I've taken vitals on real people, not just mannequins or my classmates. I've done blood glucoses and charted in a real hospital computer system. 

I've streaked and poured and spread plates in Microbiology and wrote out a nursing care plan for the late Captain Phil from Deadliest Catch (and yes we got to watch snippets from Deadliest Catch in class and it was wonderful). I went apple picking (for the first time, how have I never done that before? I literally plucked an apple off of a tree and ate it, thanks nature for being so delicious and crisp). I went to a vineyard outside of Charlottesville (Now this, really, how have I never done? Wine is one of my favorite things in life and there are vineyards an hour away and I had never before gone to one-this is insanity my friends). I sat in the warm sun with a cheese plate, a bottle of local sparkling wine, and some lovely company and watched the absurdly beautiful Charlottesville scenery (darn me and my coastal inclinations, I really missed out on mountain life growing up). I climbed Crab Tree Falls (well half way up at least) and managed to make it down in the dark without dying. 

I signed a lease on an apartment! After two years of squatting in my parent's house and reaping the benefits of free rent and utilities, I'm journeying back into the world of apartment living-tiny kitchen and all. Luckily I'm only moving about 12 blocks from where I live now, so I will be able to continue to enjoy the benefits of free, home cooked meals, and a convenient washer/dryer that are not coin operated. 

And a little more than a week ago I watched my best friend since I was six get married. I can not think of a more surreal experience than watching her come down the aisle in her gorgeous dress, instantly flashing back to a million memories growing up together. The wedding was perfect. I made the wise (if not financially sound) decision to get hair and makeup done professionally, and while it may have cost extra it was a lovely experience to have professionals do all that for me while I sipped pomegranate mimosas and ate from platters of Chik-fil-A.

Getting ready

We danced, we ate, we drank. We took over half of Lemaire after the reception and opened our own, smuggled in bottles of sparkling wine until they very nicely informed us that shockingly, one of the nicest restaurants in Richmond is not BYOB. We took pictures in front of the Lee Monument and amused passers by as all 18 of us (bride and groom + wedding party) jumped up in down in formal wear. 

I gave a toast at the rehearsal dinner in front of 100+ people and managed not to a) pass out from nerves or b) get embarrassingly drunk from nerves. I only got a little bit weepy.

Rehearsal dinner with fellow bridesmaids, and two of my other best friends in the world

It's strange how firmly change becomes a part of life when you're in your 20s. Most of us spend 18 years in one place. And even our college years are only a slight shift. We still come home for breaks and feel like kids (or at least I did). But then your mid 20's hit and every few months there's something new, someone getting married, someone having a baby, someone moving away. There's new jobs, new careers. I think back on all that's happened in the last 4 years and it's incredible to me. I went from barista clinging on to my college life to English teacher in Thailand to unemployed writer to nanny to unemployed writer to nursing student/employed writer (and runner, still can't really get over that). 

I guess it hit me, maybe more powerfully than it ever has, as I watched my best friend get married, this girl I've known through dolls and braces and N'Sync and going away to college, that holy crap, we're adults. I'm an adult. And it's a very weird mix of emotions. It's been such a happy and beautiful experience and I'm so proud of and happy for my friend, but I've also had a couple of moments since the wedding where I've been hit by this wave of grief for the past and all of the silly, immature, kid moments contained within it. The thing about change is that it is absolutely necessary for us to thrive and grow and become who we're supposed to be, and we get used to its frequency, but I think even the best changes are always a little bit sad. It's that tiny bubble that wells up in you're chest, when you know the future is so bright and new and good, but you can't help but look back over your shoulder at what you're leaving behind. 

I guess the thing about change is that it wouldn't mean anything at all if it was easy. The only change worth having in life is the kind that is simultaneously beautiful and a little bit sad. 

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